How Much Wood?

Woodchuck and flowers

Some people have helpful neighbors who pick up your mail, watch your place while you’re gone, and on occasion, act as an emergency store with a lent cup of sugar and a smile. I, on the other hand, have a different kind of neighbor.

woodchuck

The common groundhog, or woodchuck as it’s often called, is a pest to some, a cute furry animal to others. Since these neighbors reside in the field next to where I live, they are fortunately the latter and not the former to me. Groundhogs were a new experience for me when I came up to Ohio from Texas. While we might have groundhogs in parts of Texas, I never saw one before, except every February when I, like the rest of the nation, would wait patiently for Punxsutawney Phil to predict the remainder of winter. But they are plentiful up here. On a recent drive through Southern Ohio, I saw them frequently as they nibbled on tender grasses by the roadside. Too close, sadly, in some cases.

woodchuckNevertheless, I still break a small smile whenever I see one of these lumbering, overgrown guinea-pig-like critters. On walks around the neighborhood I’ve seen them foraging in the nearby field around and behind a large bush entangled with raspberry vines. Their den is behind this natural barrier and on the border between the mowed field and the thick, high grasses and weeds of a unkempt lot. Best I can tell there is one adult and two nearly grown juveniles. But since I only get infrequent peeks at partial animals, I can’t tell for sure.

Sometime over the next few days I plan to take an offering in the form of a sack of tasty carrots and see if I can coax them out of their Groundhog Condo long enough to snap some better pictures. After all, somebody has to act as the local Welcome Wagon, even for shy neighbors sporting large front teeth and funny, waddly sort of walks.

woodchucks

woodchucks

Hooray Beer

If you’ve watched any of the World Cup here in the states on the tele, then no doubt you’ve seen Red Stripe’s infamous commercial, with the Jamaican Ambassador of beer making the claim that ugly people become beautiful while holding a bottle of their brew. While it’s been a few years since I’ve had a Red Stripe, I can’t vouch for it’s ability to turn all things ugly into wondrous beauties, but I can say that watching World Cup has confirmed, for me, what a beautiful sport it is.

Our American problem with soccer remains an enigma, although understandable in its reasons. In the 7/3/06 issue of The New Yorker magazine, Jeffrey Toobin wrote in Un-American Activity about the dilemma of Americans not embracing this world sport. “Soccer fans in American are evangelical in their fervor, yet cultish in their number,” he stated. Sums it up about right, I’d say. Listening to the radio the other day here in Northwest Ohio, the announcer attempted to ride the World Cup buzz wave for his next talk show segment, imploring his audience to “Stay tuned for some talk about real football…not that other one where men run around in skimpy shorts.” Ouch.

Could it be that we can’t relate to Football (aka soccer) because it isn’t manly enough? That somehow macho only works with beefy sweathogs in pads and helmets, whereas World Cup is essentially prancers in synthetics? Anyone who has watched the last few World Cup matches would argue that soccer, much like rugby, can easily get physical at times. I guess “manly” means wearing a cup so someone can stomp you in the groin without complications. Real men (soccer players) take it au natural. (For those not watching World Cup, this refers to Britain’s striker Rooney, who red-carded out of the match when he “unintentionally” stomped on the groin of an Portugal opponent).

A Toobin further stated, “Soccer is the Canada of American sports, viewed less with contempt than with indifference,” so I’m not sure what it will take to turn our attention and pension for spending millions on sports paraphenalia, one sure sign that America embraces a pasttime. It’s one thing to see an overweight, American armchair quarterback wearing a jersey emulating No. 7, Ben Roethlisberger. Not sure I really want to see the same beer-bellied wonder wearing a different No. 7, that of Mr. Beckham.

We also have a warped sense of the phrase “World Champions.” Every year we hold a World Series in baseball and crown the survivor “World Champion,” yet they are all American teams save one token Canadian representative. We call our dominant football team who wins the Super Bowl “World Champion” in the same ignorant attitude that America=World, since only American teams compete. Of course, our foreign political agenda seems to sprout that same attitude, so this shouldn’t be a surprise.

It’s not that I personally care if the rest of American figures this out. I’ve discovered the grace and excitement of the sport, so I’m happy following it as best I can, content in my un-American appreciation of a true world sport. In fact, there’s admittedly something of an allure precisely because it’s less appreciated here, resulting in a decided specialness that embraces all that is world soccer. One downside, of course, is struggling to find a sports bar to watch World Cup on the tele in a town where Big Ben Roethlisberger was born, raised, and is still worshipped, and where every third car around here sports some sort of Nascar iconic sticker or decal. With soccer, again according to Toobin, “…likely to remain roughly as popular as it is now: somewhere behind hockey and ahead of bowling” I guess it’s not yet time to buy futures in soccer bumper stickers and bobble head dolls. At least, not if you’re an American living in America.

Wee Folk

Lori hoping to catch a wee glimpse...On a recent day trip to Ann Arbor, Michigan, we fully expected to soak in the local culture of this famed college town. In addition to having a great assortment of book stores (and the largest Borders store I’ve ever seen), the locals seem to look the other way on graffiti artists and would-be creative types. But we had heard there was a completely different culture available in this liberal corner of the Midwest.

Close-up of above doorApparently a small society of fairies has decided that Ann Arbor is a nice place to live, and so have settled in among the big people. A great mystery surrounds when they first appeared, and although no one is talking, I suspect whoever knows the truth is sworn to secrecy by some wee-big folks accord. And although I can’t share pictures of the actual cuties (maybe after a few beers…), I can provide the evidence of their domiciles we snapped while strolling the streets. Even though we were following a map, when we discovered each door there was always a bit of a surprise at their dimunitive stature. I’ll hush now and let you enjoy these images, but if you want to find out more about the fairy doors of Ann Arbor, go here, NPR’s coverage, and The Washington Post’s article.

 

High window

The door to the stairs to the window...

A sense of scale

Two more doors

The Fever

Most of the world has it, and it now appears I do as well. Bird flu? Bubonic? Nope, I’m talking about World Cup fever, of course.

Watching in style...I’ve been following the matches online until today when I finally found time to watch a few matches on the tele. Being an American, of course, “football” means something entirely different to me than to the fans of this most engaging spectacle. And the World Cup fans are one reason why watching the matches is a lot of fun.

Part of why I think this competition captivates most of the world, excluding most Americans, is that it’s about country and honor. Yes, these barely protected field soldiers are in the same class of multi-millionaires as our American football heroes, yet when one’s country’s pride is on the line, they seem to play with the passion and enthusiasm of pure sport. Soccer, or football for you non-Yanks, at this level does have a purity that is not often seen in professional sport, and usually something reserved for Olympian endeavors. Of course, national pride is only part of the equation: players performances in the World Cup can mean a huge increase in fat contracts offered by professional teams not to mention lucrative endorsements. But, I still want to think that the World Cup is about country first, individual second.

screen shotI captured these shots while watching the start of the Germany-Sweden match this morning. What energy these players have! It made me tired just watching, and no doubt contributed to an extra slink-down or two on the sofa. I planned to watch the second game today between Mexico and Argentina, and tried to time my dashing out for a bite of lunch and some Scrubbing Bubbles (it’s housecleaning day…odd contrast to the fancy footwork of football, but in my world quite necessary) so that I’d be back in time for the start. Unfortunately, a detour at the library made me about 10 minutes late, during which of course each side scored a goal. Sigh. But it’s a high-energy game so far, so I’m sure I’ll see more scoring action. With this football you have to pay attention and enjoy when they do score, since they do so less frequently than American football.

America doesn’t appreciate world football like it should, but it’s only a matter of time before that happens I think. Years ago the success of our women soccer team should been enough to make this sport a mainstay, and for while we too had the fever nation-wide. The game does have a strong youth following in this country, but seems to dwindle after that. A talented athlete in this country’s college system can do so well economically playing baseball, basketball, or football that you can’t blame them for choosing those paths. Hopefully, that will change.

Watching these World Cup matches has definitely made me a fan of this fluid, pure game. Lots of green grass, mano y mano, and a lot of running. A LOT of running. And my prediction for this year’s World Cup final? Germany and Brazil, and Brazil winning 4-2. Now if I can find my bookie’s phone number, maybe I can profit by this clairvoyant moment…

The Pavement Ballet

On a typical commuter morning last week at yet another stoplight, I thought about the complexity of movement and orderly behavior as people in cars and buses move independently from house to places of work on any given morning.

This particular day wasn’t anything special, consistently as bland as most workdays are at 8 a.m. The difference that day was a sudden awareness of how organized and harmonious we can be at times in our world, giving us an ever so slight, daily dose, of civilized behavior. As in most towns, there is a choreography of motored steps that happens each workday, not unlike the practiced movements of dancers on a stage. With quiet purpose, we each leave our homes in response to an unseen force that propels us from house to car, then car to work, unknowingly orchestrated with staggering departures to ensure a reasonable melding of uni-directional metal machines. What might happen if we all left at precisely the same moment? Chaos.

Imagine you’re a bird, floating on gentle currents high above such a scene. You might well be fooled that you were watching trained ants foraging through a striated forest, moving with obvious purpose and aligned randomness, while seeming to obey common laws that prevent inefficiency, yet induce progress. You might even become mesmerized by the hypnotic effect this orchestrated pavement ballet provides. Yet if you knew us well, you’d also sigh and shake your feathered head in dismay at the continued short-sightedness of creatures so obviously over-relying on machines that burn limited fossil fuels. Had evolution bypassed these creatures and not given them a natural form of movement? And if you knew of the wars and economic chaos caused by the addiction to this unnatural pursuit of fossil fuels, you’d likely bless your maker who saw fit to evolve you with a natural form of movement and exempt you from such silliness.

Yet still, you’d stay curious about the repetitive nature of these beings who endure the same orchestrated movements day in, day out. If you were an uncommonly intelligent bird who enjoyed delving into the mysteries of these other being’s behaviors, you’d probably question their reluctance to evolve to a more renewable, natural form of transportation. But by then, the bigger bird behind you would probably honk loudly, interrupting your daydreaming while less-than-gently encouraging you to continue on your way. Such are the dangers of thinking too much too early, when one should really be glissading.